Nov 2, 2007

The Evolution Of Halloween

Valerie J. Steimle

As October has come to a close, Halloween has been stuck in my mind. Wednesday was the celebration of “All Hallows Eve.” There has been a long history of this festive day throughout all the ages and in our modern world we sometimes forget the reason why we do what we do.

The history is too long to write it all here but suffice it to say that the British Isles had the market on this holiday way back to the 8th century. All Saints Day was celebrated on November 1st (being yesterday) and the people in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales created a “Day of the Dead.” The dead were honored and a feast was held, not as those who are dead but as the living spirits of loved ones and guardians. “All Hallows Eve” events also included dressing up in unrecognizable costumes and mischief making to get treats to eat. As the early Americans adopted this tradition from their European ancestors, it evolved into what we know now as Halloween. But something very interesting has happened.

Back in the day when I was trick-or-treating, (60’s and 70’s) many children participated in this fun, seemingly innocent activity. I remember how much fun it was to go from door to door in our neighborhood to get candy and Hollywood wasn’t as interested in scaring you silly. The 80’s and 90’s came along and my children went trick-or-treating as well. I noticed then that there weren’t as many children knocking at my door. The movie rating changed from “R” to PG-13 so we get more violence and horror in what used to be considered unsuitable for “under 17”.

Now it’s after the new millennium, and the focus on Halloween is mostly celebrated as “Fall Festivals”. There aren’t nearly as many trick-or-treaters as there were even ten years ago and the emphasis in Hollywood is ghouls and horror. To add to this whole scary holiday an article was published in “The Advocate” this week saying that the Gay community thinks they should be taking over Halloween because the Christian world has killed it and they see it as a way to parade their outlandish and outrageous costumes. I really don’t think that is true.

Maybe Halloween has decreased in trick-or-treaters because of the scare in the 80’s of neighbors putting drugs in candy and razor blades in apples. Maybe it’s because those parents from my generation of trick-or-treaters sees the holiday as a different celebration and don’t want to be sucked into that Hollywood’s idea of gruesome and ghouls. Whatever the reason, Halloween has evolved into a time when community groups and churches promote fall activities and games instead of mischief and tricks and the few trick-or-treaters left have to get to houses by 9pm or else everyone is out of candy and has turned off the light. It is amazing to me to see this metamorphosis take place and to think about what Halloween has become.

On the one hand, Hollywood sees Halloween as an opportunity to scare you to pieces, while on the other hand many communities want safe and fun festivals for their children to still dress up and give out treats. I wonder what Halloween will end up being ten years from now? It makes you wonder.


  1. When I was a child, Halloween was trick time, not treats. No costumes that I recall. Mostly boys and young men went around pulling tricks, like tipping over outhouses (we lived in a rural community without even electricity) or hoisting implements like hay rakes or wagons onto the roof of a shed, even if they had to take it apart and rebuild it.

    One halloween when I was a young teen, we had no trickers at all, simply because somebody ran over a skunk not far from our farmhouse, and absolutely nobody ventured outside in that vacinity. Or was the skunk the epitome of tricks?

    I remember thinking it a great idea when I heard that townspeople started giving treats in order to avoid the tricks. Maybe it was a ploy of merchants to sell more candy. As I recll, it was in the mid to late '30s, when we were still deep into depression.

    I, personally, stayed home on Halloween, neither tricking nor being treated. What a tragedy (?). But we did have parties, bobbing for apples, etc.

    Thanks for the memories.

  2. In researching our Italian ancestors, my sister has learned that Italy also celebrated (and still celebrates) a Day of the Dead each year. I don't think they dress up in costumes, but they do bake cookies called "Bones of the Dead" cookies, that are sometimes actually molded into the shape of bones. (And they don't taste half-bad. ;-) )

    I think the tapering off of trick-or-treaters has been due to the scares of drugs, razor blades, etc, being slipped in with the candy, leading to churches, communities, and even indoor shopping malls (so I've heard) replacing house-to-house trick-or-treating with what they hope of "safer" Halloween activities for the children. (Just my guess.)

  3. Hmmm...the two wards in our building hold an annual trunk & treat party in the church parking lot...beginning with a chili festival, games for the kids, pumpkin carving, cookie walk, etc. Actually, all the churches around here are doing it now. And yes, the stores in the malls all encourage the kids to trick or treat in the mall. Interesting. Thanks, Valerie!


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